Sunday, July 11, 2010

Chapter 5

22.6 Beautiful morning, chips for breakfast! Water lapping on beach; superb setting looking across to the mountainous shore of Tanzania in the distance. Persuaded Jumbo to walk the three miles to his home. I think that he is getting tired. Great walking along village paths, fabulous big butterflies, baobab tree, rollers on telegraph poles, eagles over the water. Loads of kids, as usual, who still seem to be excited by a white man actually walking.. Headed out of Chilumba and came across a group of ladies on the road-side making cassava pyramids to dry on the roadside. The cassava is ground, made into a stiff porridge and then shaped and dried. It keeps for a month like this and can be sold. The cassava is interplanted with the maize and after the maize has been harvested the cassava goes on growing. Taught a group of children to count to 6. Big wide-eyed smiles, white teeth, just beautiful and innocent. Called in at a chicken farm as Jumbo is investigating chicken farming for the dry season. Very poor folk despite good egg business. They are buying their food from Lilongwe inspite of growing maize locally and having local maize mills. A component of the feed is soya bean which I am sure will grown around Chilumba. Jumbo is quite conservative but he has taken professional advice and has greatly improved his maize yield but there seems to be much more that could be grown in this marvellous fertile place.
We walked off the road along field paths towards Jumbo’s farm. We passed a bullock cart full of smiling people and ladies carrying sticks on their heads. The rough weedy fields support large numbers of flowers and spectacular butterflies. Jumbo pointed out his land and a new field he has just bought. Arrived at the farm, large tin-roofed bungalow with dark central living room and large flat screen TV and satellite programmes. Jumbo gradually introduced me to his extended family and proudly showed me his 50kg/90kg maize sacks, overflowing into his mother’s bedroom. Lots of smiles around the open cooking area which occupies one corner of a large beaten earth area with goats, long-drop toilet, chickens and even a white cat. Must be a bit of mud-bath in wet season. Orange trees just ripening. I think that with water you could grown just about anything here but I didn’t see a small kitchen garden with tomatoes or aubergines but there were some sweet potatoes. They don’t seem to grow salad. Fabulous views over to the lake and distant Rift escarpment.
Wondering if I would eat with the family but was solemnly served a meal in the living room with rice, spaghetti, potatoes and chicken. I wanted to try the maize mash but perhaps this isn’t seen as good enough for visitors.
Seems to be less English up north. I was told that the north is spiritually more superstitious. Jumbo told me that there are witchdoctors in the villages. The RC church seems to be very strong with education and health-care but I wonder what spiritual battles go unnoticed. Definitely felt that in spite of the beauty of the place it was hard to pray and read the Bible, perhaps the dictum that Christianity in Africa is a mile long and an inch thick is just as true about Malawi as the rest of Africa.
Makes me realise the need for a group like SOMA. I used to think that I could have nothing to offer the Africans from our rich western perspective, sitting with Jumbo each morning with 1 Peter I realise the need and the rewards of opening up the Bible together. He has lapped up the Bible teaching.
We walked together up to the RC church and school with Jumbo’s 17 year old son Michael. He does not feel that his school is helping him progress, he just does mornings with a poorly qualified teacher. His ambition is to be an eye surgeon, he has seen the great change that his grand-father’s eye operation has made. To send Michael to a secondary school would cost £60 per term, money Jumbo does not have as he is looking after the whole family. There are lots of young Malawians like Michael with great personal values but no way forward. I saw in a Malawian newspaper that the national budget is 1/80th of UKs. Enough said.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

chapter 4

21.6 Finally reached north Malawia and am sitting in the ‘best’ room of a rest house on the idyllic shores of Lake Malawi. Only problem is that there is a leaving party in full swing and it doesn’t seem to be coming to an end. Big base, African style. It’s a leaving ‘do’ for an English couple who have been working at a nearby medical project which is sponsored by the Wellcome Foundation and has been working on TB, leprosy and AIDS for the past 30 years. The English couple were looking forward to pub lunches and not having to live in a house with a tin roof.
Fabulous journey to get here. Must be one of the best journeys in Africa. From Rumphi and then and a gradual climb through countryside which becomes progressively greener after the dust bowl of the centre. The M1 goes through wooded valleys, past banana groves, over rivers and then drops spectacularly down the Rift Valley escarpment, 1000 metres above the glittering, sand fringed Lake Malawi with white crests of waves, in Europe this would be millionaire territory. The Lake is the last of the great lakes of the rift valley, a mighty split which is thought will eventually end in the north-east of Africa sailing off into the Indian Ocean.
We stopped at the Livingstonia turning, hoping to get a lift up into the hills to see the famous missionary village. No lift so we abandoned that idea and instead got on a minibus for the 15 mile trip to the Chilumba turning. Hair-raising journey with a maniac driver. 90MPH past kids coming home from school. The Malawi road crash statistics are apparently gruesome and we just prayed that we would not be added to the list. I told Jumbo that we would not be going on a minibus again.
So to the rest house which appears to be a British construction from the 30s with thick walls and metal windows and doors and a large cockroach in a non-functioning bath with taps detached. We rescued the cockroach which later on met a gruesome end as a swarm of bath-inhabiting ants fed on him for their supper and scrunched up every last drop of juice. Fabulous butterflies in garden, real tropical feel with fishermen and nets just outside the grounds and bats whirling around the lights catching moths. An eagle flapped lazily across the lake and black and white woodpecker flew across the garden.

Chapter 3

Another amazing African day. Breakfast early and then through Lilongwe rush hour to total chaos of bus staion. Buses off to all corners and touting for business. Jumbo spotted an already full Axa bus destined for Mzuzu. The rule of thumb in Malawi is that if the bus is full get on it, don’t get on empty buses. Full buses are ready to go, so we squeeze on and end up in the froint seat with three small and startled children who had rarely seen a white man before. Jumbo was quickly unfazed by everything and proceeded to put the little girl on his lap, she didn’t seem to mind, and the parents behind didn’t seem to mind either. So we trundled off with about 70 people on board and an evangelist preaching in Chichewa and leading the passengers in singing choruses, Alleluia Jesu. Rather surreal but totally captivating. Bus continued to fill, one person off three on. Ladies with babies tied to them in colourful slings and with bundles on their heads, amazing sense of balance to get on a bus. Larger wicker mat, four audio speakers, chicken, people standing, bus careering along a narrowish road which isn’t quite wide enough for two vehicles to pass and is fringed all the way by pedestrians and cyclists. Stops at scruffy trading places where produce, mostly bananas. Nearly left one mother behind at one stop with baby still on the bus. “Give her to the police” said one passenger as the driver moved off. Driver ignored the advice and mother eventually caught yp – ladies the same all over the world with their shopping. Wonderful wooded country as we climb through the Vyphra national park. Reminiscent of Scotland with wooded hillsides wreathed in mist – Africans reaching for their coats. Loads of timber on the roadside, wooden houses perched precariously on hill-sides. Still the passengers board the bus with all kinds of bundles. Speakers nearly fall on conductor who is busy counting the takings – a great bundle of 500 Kwatcha notes- from 100 passengers. After 6 hours After 6 hours on the road we reach a muddy Mzuzu – it has just been raining heavily and the minibus drivers are touring furiously for passengers. We go to the bank to get yet more fistful of notes. At least the bus and in house entertainment was cheap. 200 miles for £5.
Eventually settle on a private vehicle and settle down for 75 mile journey north west to Rumphi. Furious driving, loud Christian music, we get to Rumphi and the lovely Matunkha eco-lodge, lovely chap meal. Fabulous starry sky, never realised that there were so many stars in the sky. Miracles of modern technology linked me up with Frances 6000 miles away, nice to hear all the news. Also have Rosie’s Father’s day card on my desk. Only 2 ½ days in Africa. Jumbo is exhausted so we go to bed early.

20.6 Woke up to the liquid piping dawn chorus after an unsuccessful night-time battle with a lone mosquito. Bird song sounds like flutes being played, beautiful birds zipping round. Sat on the verandah and watched a red, thrush-like bird, with white eye-strip. Tiny blue birds the size of wrens. Nice breakfast and then hunt-African style- for suitable transport to Vwarza Marsh reserve. Silly price from the folk at the Lodge so we walked into Rumphi along a busy dust track pasta mixture of people going to church and folk selling a variety of things such as sugar cane, pts and pans and dried fish. Jumbo’s cousin met us with a promise that he would be back shortly with his car. Ominously no price mentioned, breaking the first rule that you nail the price to the floor before setting off. Choice of transport heading to Vwarza including open pick ups precariously loaded and too dangerous for us. No cousin appears. So we go with the pick up, having knocked ‘Prince’ down from 12000 to 8000, £48 to £32, which still seems a bit steep for a 30 mile round trip until we encounter the horrendous track to the reserve with huge potholes. Apparently the road goes on into the mountains for 50 miles, nobody seems to mind, what it must be like in the wet season!! June through to October is very dry and already the country is turning dust brown colour and the leaves are falling off the trees. Very poor as we head along the road. We stop at a filling point with lots of people milling around. I think that I stand out from the crowd!

Vwarza Marsh
Matunka is the ’white man’ and my presence riding regally in a battered pick-up made me glimpse the amazement Livingstone must have caused when he came to these parts 140 years ago. I doubt if the smiles, openness and friendliness have changed, nor I guess the poverty. The mobile phones might have been a bit of a surprise.
We bounce to the Reserve. Prince disappears to deliver someone somewhere.. Disinterested Government official at the gate. She points us off to a central compound to wait for a ranger to show us around. I expected a busy place a bit like Yorkshire Wildlife Park, but nothing stirs. Jumbo stops a young boy who comes up to us and goes down on one knee and bows. Jumbo tells me that they are taught to respect elders at school. Eventually a neat ranger – Webster Banda- appears with a gun. Still no Prince, so we head off into the reserve. All very low key. Immediate elephant poo! Separate for male, tidier collection for females, we have hit the jackpot, the elephants are in the bushes!! Apparently you can stay at the Reserve for days and not see them but they are in the bushes!! Impala and hippos are making a show in a kind of parkland setting with a big lake. Lots of little simple holiay lodges dotted about and behind, happily munching on whole branches are elephants. W can see their trunks and ears, not a clear view but goodness!, this is untamed Africa. We spent an enchanting hour sitting quietly on some steps waiting for these huge animals to emerge from their cover. Webster Banda the ranger, is just lovely, and obvioulsy in love with his animnals and his job. He chats away with Jumbo who is a Nabuko speaker too and therefore instantly accepted, very useful for the matunka. Our two hours with Webster is nearly up when nine elephants calmly break cover and stroll to the waters edge and wade en masse across a creek. Jumbo is ecstatic, he lives just 30 miles away but has never been to Vwarza and had never seen a elephant. You could see his horizons open up. The Malawians are wonderful peope living in a wonderful place, perhaps a little more ambition?

To finish our Vwarza experience a yellow baboon starts leaping around the little village as we pay our dues - and a nice tip to Webster. Paying is a very solemn exercise in Malawi and the writing of receipts requires awed and hushed concentration reminsicent of scenes from the Botswana lst ladies detective agency.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Chapter 2

Our lodgings reminded me of a holiday chalet with everything a bit worn and tatty, however it has running water ( not hot) and flush toilets – I was expecting the infamous long drop- in fact didn’t get to use one all the way during the holiday. Had my first good chat with Jumbo, he told me about his disappointment of coming home after his family had set such high hopes for him in UK. Times were very tough when he got back but now he was pleased to be in Malawi and his maize growing with the help of specialist advice was going well.
Went for a pizza with the guys – British prices. Llilongwe is quite expensive, same petrol price as UK, I don’t know how people on low incomes cope – there are thousands of them. We went back into the suburbs to Mthwalo’s house . Government owned bungalow with tin roof, comfortable with kitchen bedrooms, quite suburban. M. is growing a cash crop of Chinese cabbage in his garden, all Malawians seem to be entrepreneurs.
Killed first mosquito at chalet, gave up wrestling with mosquito net which insisted on wrapping itself around my neck, no problem with bites. Something heavy landed on the roof in the night.

18.6 Breakfast in refectory – the Malawian national dish – chips and eggs. African music and dancing on TV. First Chichewa words – Muli banji and Zikomo. Sat on verandah and began to read 1 Peter, our book for the week, lovely to share Christian things with Jumbo.
Off to juvenile prison, amazing sights on the way, so many people, rickety wooden scaffolding, children heading off to school in their droves, some waiting by road side ash pits for baked potatoes for their breakfasts. Prison was a disturbing medieval place. 71 under 18s kept their, six in for murder. A farm-yard with cowsheds for accommodation, open latrine, one tap, no shoes, doctor or education. Apart from Kennedy and Johann’s input the boys there are abandoned by a system which says that criminals deserve no facilities. All education takes place outside in the yard at the mercy of the weather. Two volunteers were leading groups and an older inmate teaching another. I gave a short talk on Jesus stilling the storm, Kennedy translated. We talked to an 11 year old who had just arrived after a fight the previous day where someone had been hurt. Kennedy and Johann have great plans but few resources.
The prisoners have no legal aid. Outside the governors office, a prisoner had climbed a papaya tree, 40 ft up he was happily knocking off fruit which crashed down. The staff seemed to be pleased.
Walked to town centre past two huge mosques, swarms of people, very dusty and litter strewn. J and K. kept on bumping into friends, including one guy they had successfully helped out of prison. Lunch and then taxi to jumbo’s uncles’ house where jumbo’s dad was recuperating after an eye operation. Jumbo’s uncle is an MP and not surprisingly has a beautiful house and five cars. Mr. Kalua Snr remembered the independence days when he had personally met the great hero of the nation, Hastings Banda in 1958. He said that it had been a dangerous and fearful time with many killed in the unrest.
Chinese in the evening, a first for the lads. Jumbo stayed at the resthouse and bought a great plateful of white maize back – just like blanched mashed potato- bean stew and limp stewed Chinese cabbage.
Terrible England performance, worst I have ever seen. Only been here 1 ½ days but it seems like months. Tough place to live, dust smoke but Christians are very strong.

chapter 1

My African diary
16th June Set off from Doncaster station on 14.17 , a bit apprehensive, and not feeling too well, thought it might be the Malarone but actually probably a bit of flu, just what you need ahead of a 6000 mile journey into the unknown, why was I doing this crazy thing?
Rickety journey to Heathrow on the tube didn’t improve things. Getting signed in at Terminal 3 was no problem, Ethiopian Airlines tucked away in corner of area F, a pit of a poor relation. Hung around lounges for 2 hours watching a bit of football, very exotic mix of passengers from all over the world. Tried the multi-faith room which was obviously designed for people who liked to use mats and pray on the floor. At 8p.m. joined African world of Eth. Airlines, slow security processes and chaotic boarding .300 people stuffed into an ageing aeroplane, leg-room, 20”, would have make Easy Jet blush. Met my fellow passenger for the journey, Alise, a trainee nurse on her way back to Uganda to see her sick grand-mother. The first of a number of fascinating meetings with African passengers. Very slow boarding, apparently an EA speciality, which made us miss our take-off slot, so we ahd to wait a further 1 hour dawdling down the run-way. Flight best forgotten. Meal served at 2p.m. GMT which seemed to set off a group of Africans off into high spirits and they proceded to talk loudly for the next five hours, so sleep impossible. You go into a kind of trance and it didn’t seem too long before we were greeted by an African dawn. The coffee and Genoa cake(!) eased the descent into my first African city, Addis Ababa., a strange mixture of half finished buildings, skyscrapers, and a patchwork of fields.
AA airport very quiet, so had a doze and then got talking to a guy from South Africa who was working with the UN as an Avionics engineer and was flying to Chad for 5 weeks. SA was going down hill and was becoming very dangerous was his verdict.
Rush to get on plane as they seemed to have decided to leave earlier than announced, then we hung around on the runway for another ¾ hour for some late passengers. So there we were again an hour late – seems to be a EA speciality. Nice flight south a cross the Equator in a modern plane, not full, so much more comfortable. My fellow passenger Jack, prayed as we took off. Nervous flyer. Congolese, brother a pastor . He told me that he had never tried Christianity. Just returning from a business strip to Manchester. We talked a lot about Africa, faith and the Congo. He is a new breed of African in their 20sand 30s, the post AIDS generation, the mobile phone generation with ability and skills but frustrated by the lack of opportunities. We landed on a horribly bumpy runway at a rickety Lubumbashi – formerly Belgian Elizabethville. Airport buildings looked like those ones being taken over by rebels in 1970s news reels. I thought that we might get a move on, but that is not EA style instead we had a one hour wait while the air hostesses sunned themselves and chatted, definitely the most stunning hostesses I have seen , akin the Queen of Sheba serving your little pre-packaged meals. You can see why King David got so excited. A man came on with a hoover to the clan the plane – a first. Eventually we bounced down the runway and headed east to Lliongwe, ¾ hour later into Malawi, landed at small modern airport with crisp lawns and lovely trees. Lots of people looking important in uniform doing Custom jobs and searches, perhaps they don’t get too many planes.
Great joy to be greeted by Jumbo and Mthwalo, Kennedy and Johann. Into SU minibus with blackened windows for first harem-scarem drive in Africa. Lots of people just walking around, just missed a goat, people out selling things, digging holes. First impressions of Lilongwe is off a dusty chaotic place with huge potholes, you seem to be able to drive just about where you like. Don’t worry about cyclists who appear oblivious of imminent death by motor vehicle. The complete opposite of our orderly roads, I will never complain about lane changers again. Mthwalo drove like a cross between Russell Crowe, gladiator, and Louis Hamilton, up close, then accelerate, overtake hoping that there isn’t much in the way in front i.e. children, bikes, the odd lorry ect. We visit the SU offices which are quite tumble down. Obviously neatness and finishing things isn’t a strong point. Dropped off SU workers and then went along more crowded roads, huge potholes to the Lutheran College and its rather grandly styled Cathedral. Large dusty compound with a gate-keeper.